March 26, 2021
You may remember that a few months ago I wrote about a lawsuit filed against Ancestry.com. Several former students from California claimed that Ancestry violated their privacy rights by posting old yearbook pictures on their website without the students’ consent. They also claimed that Ancestry was using the photos for advertising and other promotional purposes and was profiting from the pictures without their permission .
A judge in California dismissed the suit late last month saying that the former students lacked standing to file the suit since no injury was done to them. Yearbook information is public, according to the judge, and Ancestry’s use of that information to try to gain profit does not constitute injury to the students. She further stated that the yearbooks were already publicly available online and that Ancestry did not create the database but merely added search functions.
The upshot for genealogists is that the yearbook photos will continue to be available. I have to admit to mixed emotions about the Ancestry Yearbook database. I have used it frequently to find old photos of various cousins and other relatives. So many of the photos that we genealogists treasure tend to be of older folks after time has done its worst. It’s great to see some fresh young faces in the yearbooks. For me in particular, the yearbooks are one of the best places I know of to find “young” photos of some of my aunts and uncles who grew up during the Depression when photography was not a priority due to cost.
Of course, my aunts and uncles are gone now so they can’t object to everyone seeing their old photos. However, since the yearbooks on Ancestry continue through the 1990s, many of photos are of living folks. I’m included in some of those yearbooks. I can’t say that I’m totally joyful that some bad photos of me as a gawky teen-ager are out there for everyone to see. I do understand that yearbooks were always essentially public documents. It can be argued that the only damage Ancestry has done anyone has made those public documents more accessible.
The plaintiffs in the California case against Ancestry have stated that they may file an amended complaint against Ancestry. For now, the yearbooks are safe on Ancestry. You can decide for yourself whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Researcher/Director at Large